Beavers are back

Wildlife experts are submitting a licence application to release 10 beavers in the south of the country and hope the reintroduction could begin this year. The Scottish government recently decided to list beavers as a protected species after a successful trial reintroduced the animals into the wild and a pair were also released on the Otter river in Devon in May.

The animals were hunted to extinction in Britain in the 16th century, but the five-year Scottish beaver trial established a group in Knapdale Forest in Argyll. Another population emerged on the Tay river following illegal releases a decade ago.

“In England, beaver numbers on the Otter have increased, with two established pairs producing offspring, or kits. One female produced five kits, well above the average of three” the programme’s manager, Mark Elliot, said. “A new male and female released on the Otter in May to increase the genetic diversity of England’s only wild beaver population have also settled in well”

Beavers have been living wild on the Otter for up to a decade, but are now part of an official five-year trial by Devon Wildlife Trust.

“They have been very visible, people have been able to watch them. We’ve had a lot of people down here beaver watching in the summer,” Elliott said, “and that’s been benefiting the local pubs and B&Bs, and people are talking about ‘beaver tourism’, which is really encouraging”

Alicia Leow-Dyke, the Welsh beaver project officer for the Wildlife Trusts Wales, said there would now be a public consultation.

A first application was made to Natural Resources Wales a year ago. If the application is not opposed, the project hopes to start releasing animals in 2017.

Leow-Dyke said: “The evidence coming from Britain and Europe is they can be beneficial for ecology, helping with reducing flooding and filtering water, and have important consequences for the landscape.”

The beavers could help with habitat restoration, bringing light into overgrown areas and allowing other nature to thrive, she said.

“With the beaver you’re not looking at a single species. It can have such a wider benefit helping the ecosystem. Because we’ve had such a detrimental effect on the landscape for so long, this can help,” she said.

Farmers and anglers have argued that beavers damage the landscape and affect fish migration, and have called for conservation efforts to be focused on the UK’s existing wildlife. Leow-Dyke said there was evidence from Europe that beavers’ negative impacts could be managed and the scheme would have a net benefit. The enjoyment factor of seeing the creatures in the wild and easy-to-spot field signs of their presence could be used to encourage children to explore the natural world, she said.

Liz Halliwell, a mammal ecologist at Natural Resources Wales, said beavers were once part of the country’s native wildlife and could create rich and varied habitats that made the environment stronger and healthier. But she added: “Our assessment of any application for a licence would need to carefully consider the effects of a reintroduction on existing wildlife and land use.”


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